ReflectionDan Spragg

Being a life-long student of Jesus the Messiah
In preaching class during my training there was a mantra
often quoted – I forget where it came from – it went like
this: As preachers, we are to comfort the disturbed and
disturb the comfortable! What do you make of that!

I wonder, do you have expectations when you attend services that you will be either
comforted or disturbed? One of the attendees at our Midweek service this week informed
us that when you confirm your membership in the Methodist church one of the things that
is often prayed is, ‘May the Spirit of God, comfort and disturb you.’ Have you ever asked
God to ‘disturb’ you? I’m not sure I have in such a direct way! Our conversation at the
midweek service decided that we understood the idea but maybe the word ‘challenge’ was
better than disturb. Spirit of God, comfort and challenge us. I do think Jesus lived his life
and ministry with a similar mantra – we can see both comfort and challenge in him
especially when he was teaching and working alongside his disciples.

By the time the events in today’s reading take place, Peter, along with the rest of the
disciples have been with Jesus for a while. They’ve been travelling probably for a couple of
years at this point and we can see that they have grown and developed in their faith and
understanding. A couple of years is long enough to begin to get used to things – mostly as
humans we settle into new routines and new settings fairly quickly. I think the disciples at
this point are probably ‘in the groove’ of things so to speak. There is throughout the various
stories a sense in which their faith had grown and developed along the way and we could
interpret Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah from last week’s reading as saying
that they have ‘arrived’ to a certain extent. Peter declares to Jesus, ‘You are the Messiah!’
and I imagine Jesus thinking, ‘Finally these guys are getting it!’ Why then, when Jesus seeks
to teach them further about what it means for him to be the messiah, and what it means to
be a follower of this messiah, why do they resist? And resist so strongly! Quite simply, the
fact that their Messiah was to suffer and for all intents and purposes look as though he was
heading towards failure, well, this is not what they had in mind. The Messiah was meant to
be great and commanding and victorious and liberating… none of this involved suffering,
torture, betrayal, execution… and so, Peter’s reaction… resistance. Isn’t it so often that the
mission of and indeed the way of Christ is hard to get our heads around? One moment
Peter has arrived at a certain level of faith and understanding in Jesus, and the next, there is
resistance to that very thing. Isn’t this very much like our own journeys of faith? It is
wonderfully easy to be comfortable in the Christian life. But comfort doesn’t lead to
anything much apart from being comfortable! Is the Christian life really about being
comfortable? Jesus suggests that it is through challenges, through suffering, through
putting our ego, our preferences, our own comfort aside, that this is where we will find true
life. Sitting pretty in comfortable routines on a faith plateau is not where we are to find true
life. So then, if this is the case, how do we hear these words of Jesus?

That to ‘get behind him,’ to follow him means to expect a bit of challenge. Peter declared
just prior to this that ‘Jesus is Lord.’ If we are to truly stop and think about that statement
for a moment, it is a challenging confession. Are we willing to utter it? Look at where it led
Peter! What does it mean to confess that Jesus is Lord? That starts to challenge us. What is
it to say that I am not Lord of my own life? This challenges our getting along with one
another, it challenges how we use our money, our time, our energy, it challenges how we
consider who to vote for. Do we understand what it means to utter those words – Jesus you
are lord?

Someone I was in a group discussion with this week told us that she saw her faith as a
lifelong quest. Faith for her was not a destination. The journey of faith is always in motion.
How do you feel about that? What do you make of your own faith as a journey? Can you
consider that there is still growing and learning for you to do? I can understand Peter’s
resistance. He was probably afraid. He was most definitely concerned for his friend and
teacher. And for sure it was a lot to get his head around – it wasn’t meant to go down like
Jesus was suggesting. But I think what Jesus was getting at when he said, ‘you are thinking
human thoughts not divine thoughts’ was that to find true redemption, true salvation, true
life; faith requires that we step into the challenging things despite our fear. To find true life
requires us to step into the land of uncertainty, to step out of our comfort zone, to step
away from relying on ourselves. Paradoxically Jesus is saying here that our comfort and our
survival – which are what keep us in the safe spaces – our comfort and our survival actually
depend on letting go of our will and getting behind Jesus in order to follow him. When Jesus
challenges our comfortable state, we are not to resist but we are to follow, we are to trust;
no matter how afraid, no matter how much ‘sense’ the challenge does or does not make.

Can you join with me today and pray, Spirt of God, may you comfort AND challenge me in
my quest of faith? Spirit of God may you comfort AND challenge us as a church community.
May we know both your comfort AND challenge. May we trust to let you lead and accept
the invitation to grow. May we trust to let you lead and accept the invitation to true life.